Team Work – The Thunderbirds Calypso Pass

Thunderbirds perfect Calypso Pass

In an aerial display featuring precision flying, the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron “The Thunderbirds” demonstrate the team work needed to perform a near perfect ‘Calypso Pass’ at the 2011 Aviation Nation Airshow at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. In this photo they are flying the F-16C Block 52 Fighting Falcon, also known as the Viper.

During this maneuver, aircraft number “5” piloted by the Lead Solo pilot flies inverted while number “6” is flown at a slightly lower altitude and displaced laterally to the formation’s right. When everything is perfect, this will give the illusion of the two aircraft flying in tight formation with one immediately above the other. Aircraft number “5” spends so much time inverted during the Thunderbirds show that the number is painted upside-down on the aircraft so that it appears right-side up to those of us on the ground.

This is an image that I’ve wanted to capture for many years. I love aviation and my goal as a young man was to become a fighter pilot and eventually fly with the Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, flying for the military just wasn’t in the cards, but I did have the opportunity to volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol for nearly 14 years where I held many positions including flying on search and rescue missions, and commanding the Texas Hill Country Composite Squadron for 4 years. Today as a nature photographer, and one who loves his job, I still look for opportunities to connect with the world of aviation and hope to expand my portfolio to aviation photography in the near future.

There was much planning and preparation needed to create this photo. Timing is everything, but it doesn’t hurt to be lucky. I was shooting with a Canon 7D which under ideal conditions is capable of capturing 8 frames per second. To do so you’ll need a fast shutter speed and the autofocus system needs to be locked in on its target. If the autofocus is hunting for the subject then the shutter release will not fire. Lastly, the photographer also needs to have a solid panning technique, something I have always struggled with so I spent most of the day practicing on the other aerial demonstrations. What we see here is the combination of planning, practice, skill, and luck all coming together, but not just on my part but also on the part of the Thunderbirds team. I am willing to concede it was mostly planning, practice, and skill on the part of the Thunderbirds’ pilots and crews, and I just got lucky. 😀

On this 4th of July, I’d like to thank all that have served our country and defended our freedoms.

Title: Team Work – Thunderbirds Calypso Pass
Date: November 2011
Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II with Canon EF 2X Extender III
Filters: none
Exposure: 1/1600 second at f/8, ISO 400

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